Blistering gas from Indonesia's most volatile volcano spewed farther than expected today, incinerating houses at the edge of the danger zone, triggering chaotic evacuations and pushing the death toll in more than a week to nearly 100.
Soldiers joined rescue operations in Bronggang, nine miles from the mouth of the crater, pulling charred corpses from smouldering homes and then lifting them into the backs of trucks caked in grey dust.
Dozens of injured, most with severe burns, were carried away on stretchers.
"We're totally overwhelmed here!" said Heru Nogroho, a spokesman at the Sardjito hospital, as the number of bodies dropped off at their mortuary climbed to 54 - the deadliest day Mount Merapi has seen in 80 years.
More than 70 others were injured, many critically, with severe burns.
Merapi's booming explosion just after midnight triggered a panicked evacuation.
Men with ash-covered faces streamed down the scorched slopes on motorcycles, followed by truckloads of women and children, many crying.
Officials barked out orders on bullhorns as rocks and debris rained from the sky.
Up until today the village of Bronggang, home to around 80 families, was considered to be within the safety zone.
Mount Merapi, which means Fire Mountain, has erupted many times in the last century, often with deadly results.
In 1994, over a period of several days, 60 people were killed, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were torched, leaving up to 1,300 dead.
The greatest danger is always pyroclastic flows, like those that roared down the southern slopes today.
Cities and towns more than 100 miles away were dusted.
Activity at the mountain forced an airport in nearby Yogyakarta to close today because runways were covered in heavy white ash. It was not clear when it would reopen, said Agus Andriyanto, who oversees operations.
Subandrio, a state volcanologist, meanwhile, said Mount Merapi's "danger zone" was extended by three miles to 12 miles from the crater's smouldering mouth after the new eruption.
Even scientists from Merapi's monitoring station were told they had to pack up and move down the mountain.Reuse content